Friday, 30 June 2017

Some painful truths

"What misery has befallen those who call good evil and evil good, who establish darkness for light and deem light to be darkness, who insist what is bitter is sweet... What affliction has befallen those who are made wise by their own conceits, who believe themselves shrewd by their own estimation" . Isaiah 5:20, 21.

A new UK survey posted this week was highlighted in the press by statements that we are becoming a much more 'tolerant' society, but when you actually begin to unpack the details, that isn't as good as it sounds.

Whilst more said they are happy about same-sex marriages, sex outside of marriage, abortion on the basis of a mother not being able to financially support a child, and a strong inclination towards requested euthanasia, more also said they wanted indefinite detention of people deemed a threat without due process and more powers to stop, search and detain people, and that our personal data should be monitored.

There has been a huge drop-off in what would now be defined as 'old school' morality - marriage as an essential social institution, for example, has taken a huge hit, and whilst people seem fine with tighter laws to control us in some ways, there has also been a major decline in confidence in the institutions (Government, Police) which would deliver these.

If you look closer, then what marks the majority of these attitudes is a view that we should have 'health and safety' in society in general (nothing 'bad' that would be deemed extreme or intolerant should be socially acceptable) but we should be pretty well self-determining with regards to our individual ethical and moral choices, and society in general should affirm this (so long as these choices don't 'hurt' in terms of undermining a tolerant equilibrium).

It all sounds readily familiar to anyone who has lived here over the last five or so decades, but what, sadly, needs to faced is that there is never a vital questioning of secularism itself - a sober reflection on whether we, in truth, actually have the 'right' to be so self- determining in our attitudes and actions, and whether any consideration is ever given to the carnage we leave around us by thinking that we are so 'free' in respect to our life towards others.

In a recent post here ('Delusional'), I touched upon some of the more foolhardy aspects of the popular presumptions that underpin our secular culture. In spite of this kind of 'disconnect' from honest evaluation, these often blind presumptions remain culturally expedient, but objectively unwarranted when tested - in effect creating a distancing from a fair and vital use of reason.

Let me unpack this.

The great mistake of a broken culture, as noted by Josef Pieper, is that we believe we can achieve value in our "recreational" pursuits even though we have cut these from any viable source of credible meaning and purpose. Leisure, he notes, cannot be achieved at all when it is sought as a means to an end (Leisure - The Basis of Culture). Because of our current bankrupt estate, however (noted recently, for example, in lectures by Camille Paglia), we have nowhere else to go, so the hunt for some level of resolve by the only means left open to us become even more earnest (and even more illusionary).

As professor John Gray has argued at length, it is this manner of secularism or humanism which has become the new 'religion' of a post-christian europe, but a truly naturalistic world-view will, in effect, entirely expunge any room for secular optimism. This is because the presuppositions derived from scientific naturalism leave us without any place for a strident philosophy regarding the 'good' or the future of our race. According to an evolutionary world-view, we are only a blip on the cosmic stage, of no importance, so all we can actually achieve is only immediate and truly irrelevant. Secularism, Gray argues, as we currently see it in our day, is merely a watered-down 'non-religious-friendly' version of Christianity, without all the 'awkward details' regarding God or ethics that we find inconvenient. In other words, our society looked into the abyss that true naturalism provides, and shirked away from the horror into an illusion that now severs the day to day from the brutal reality of an empty universe.

Our days of seeking to make people 'free' is derived from Christianity's cardinal concept of history going somewhere (John Roberts - Triumph of the West), not the Darwinian construct that we are just lucky (Humanism, notes Gray, lives today in denial of Darwin's cardinal discovery that we are merely animals, nothing more). However hard we wrap ourselves in our blanket of secular rights, we are all still prey to the same nature, the same conditions, the same mortal limitations, of every man and woman - that is what truly defines our world. Atheism (Gray), Science (Weinberg on the futility of the cosmos) and Christianity are actually 'singing from the same hymn sheet' here - the reality is we are failures, and our current popularist approaches therefore will all fail.

The tragedy is that the mistake of secularism has already been made many times over, especially in the West. Since the end of the second world war and the implementation of a plethora of social and economic policies that were, supposedly, scientific in premise and execution, the fracturing of our society has accelerated, leaving us inherently prisoners of our various nightmare delusions (see Adam Curtis' documentary series, The Trap).

If we are to ascribe consciousness, purpose and meaning, notes Gray, to our race, then we'd have to be able look elsewhere than a 'universe without windows' - a godless cosmos - to do so, and from an honestly secular position, that is not possible. These attributes do not come from a naturalist universe.

Secularism is established on a world-view that inherently states we have no meaning (somewhat impossible to gain if the universe is no more than an accident), and because of that, each and every one of us has no significance at all (even passing along your genes, as Dawkins would argue, is pretty pointless in the long-run, as our species will end). To therefore say your 'right' or responsibility matters more than someone else (i.e. someone who in your eyes holds more bigoted views) is nonsense - no one is actually creating a better world. In the cold, hard light of random existence, holding anyone to account for anything is no more than one group of creatures imposing their will upon others (in effect, tyranny) because they are the majority - there's nothing 'moral' or 'right' about it, because we're all the same - collections of atoms that truly have no purpose.

Returning for a moment to Pieper, he notes in his study that a morality that is of any real value can only be gained when it is sourced from the dynamic of the truly spiritual life, because only by connecting ourselves to the understanding of the nature of the divine can our lives become imbued with a value and purpose beyond the immediate.

We can, of course, choose to ignore the ramifications of these matters - to 'work, rest and play' today and probably tomorrow as if 'our' point of reference will win the day, but the day will come when that's no longer true - our limitations will kick-in, and the end will come.

The need is for us to find ourselves by loosing ourselves - to become people who would truly love another so much that we'd give ourselves for them (and not just 'to' them for our own satisfaction). Jesus says exactly this, and became the one to entirely give Himself that we could be found in Him (Matthew 16:25, John 3:16).

This world is a war zone, and it will truly kill us unless we are freed from it's dark, conniving brutality by the God who is there.

Naturalism sees the present world as sick and foolish, heading for its demise.
Secularism denies that reality, but cannot escape it.

Christianity shows that there is something greater, and that we can know that not just for a moment, but for ever.

Consider well - what is truly best?

Sunday, 25 June 2017

"It just came out of nowhere"


The Formless.

The Fathomless.

The Deep.

The wasteland that lives between those seemingly long moments of our business, our 'normal' comings and goings. The dearth that suddenly grabs us hard when we don't expect it.

The chords of pain. The torrents of destruction. The snare of death (Psalm 18:4).

There is no compass, no exit that marks a way through the perilous nightmare of being abused by either someone or something - a person or a set of devastating circumstances. You are just left torn from what was, with nothing but void where there had so deeply once been life and purpose.

You find everything has become tarnished with a malignant futility.

How can life ever become anything more again than a going through the motions?

Is at the very heart of this unfathomable place  (Psalm 18:11).

I don't write those words lightly.

My own life has been marked by some very cruel moments, from early on in my childhood, to some unwarranted brutality towards me in my youth, and then in the loss of both family and my wife in more recent times. Most of these incidents I've never discussed publicly and probably never will, but they are wounds that mark my days hard, and I know that none of that suffering would have been in any way bearable at all were it not for the God who, amongst the darkness, is truly present and able to inhabit even death with the enduring truth that such evil, however cruel its intent and work, is not the final word.

John tells us in the opening of his gospel that this manner of light shines in the darkness. Its nature is such that it cannot be quenched, cannot be subdued, by the awfulness that on occasion so encompasses and presses upon us in the travail of both body and soul.

The impact of the dark is terrible - all too palpable in the moments I have encountered. Torn from so much which should be good and whole, the abyss swallows you and there is nowhere to go.

Jesus is found in that place.

Whilst 'gods' arbitrarily 'rule' us by dictates distant and capricious, be they learning or myth, bruising us to the point of ending us, Christ hangs upon Calvary, broken and enveloped by darkness, that what was described by the Prophet Isaiah many centuries before may occur - the poison of sin and death is drawn into that death, into Him, that we are healed in that one point, that one event, in all of eternity.

That is my shelter in the violence of a broken life, a murdered world (Psalm 18:16).

Because He came and bled, the day will come when the beast that tares and stabs us will be ended. Every tear and wound will finally be ended by His stripes and balm.
Until that day, we can find Him there, in the very centre of the carnage -
the God who can inhabit all our sorrows by His astonishing love.

The mercy is that He alone has taken upon Himself all our grief, all our sorrows, all that has caused that tragedy, and He alone will take away the brutal sting, the savage cut, that these dreads bring upon us.

In the midst of our pain, He cries out upon a cross and brakes the cycle of our being destroyed. He rises victor from those benighted realms and assures us that, in Him, our grief will end.

Our true life is to come. Heaven on earth, when sorrow is over (Psalm 18:19).
That is the God who comes in our present darkness.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

D e l u s i o n a l

Everything that is part of this current fallen world system - satisfying merely immediate desires, becoming obsessed by the immediate, filled with pride about ourselves - is not from God our Father, but purely from ourselves and that broken system, and as such, it is all temporary and passing away, but what truly pleases God (knowing and living the truth) lasts forever.  John's first letter (2:15-17. Expanded).

This week saw a great tragedy in the city of London.
Not an act of terrorism, or some heinous crime, but the horrifying deaths of many through the rapid and, as yet, unexplained, engulfing of a tower block by fire.

Concerns have already been raised about factors which may have contributed to this - recent 'environmental' changes to the building, confusing safety procedures, lack of sprinklers - all of this may have played a part, but the reality at the end of the day is that these people were not saved by either the infrastructure or the brave attempts that were made to rescue them.

Something either was or went seriously wrong.

Is the same true for us?

We probably don't live in a similar situation, but there are plenty of everyday examples when straightforward accidents happen because of either assumption or neglect which then result in unavoidable consequences. In my own job, we were informed not so long ago of two employees who died because of such circumstances.

We so easily revert to "OK" mode, especially when our surroundings are comfortable and familiar, but the truth is there are dangers present all the time.

What is true materially is doubly true spiritually.
We act on presumptions about ourselves and the universe that are flawed... and murdering us in the process.

The modern delusion is that science tells us who and what we are, but as I was reminded recently, there's been a whole bunch of pseudo-science materials generated recently that, because they've sounded credible, have been accepted and reviewed as science, when they've deliberately been total bunk.

Some of us are old enough to recall the Piltdown man fraud (which was then defined as a missing link in the evolutionary development of man), but what most are currently not aware of is that finds in this field over recent times have absolutely demolished the evolutionary tree essential to Darwin's theory.

Just last week, a friend of mine posted this on Face book:

Sounds like a really convincing argument, doesn't it?
Well, that was until I replied with a whole load of examples of when science itself - from the discovery of meteorites, to the first steps in manned space flight - rejected such progress as totally unscientific (See Richard Milton's fascinating book,  Forbidden Science, for the true history of this overlooked reality).

We continue to believe the lie.
The poison is in the water we're drinking, in spite of our being unable to see or taste it.

And the reason for our being so trapped is simple. John nails it in his letter when he speaks about us being people entangled by our desires, and those being fulfilled by what's available around us.

Our de-fault setting is to be self-referential; to believe that our understanding is giving us a true reading when it comes to who we are and what's really going on, but it can't deliver this because there's something in the way...  Pride. Our pride won't allow us to take in what's really happening here and to us. It tells us that it's all good, that we're getting the most out of things, but it doesn't see the holes in front of us, doesn't want to take on board that what's installed into our world-view has left us without the safety gear to make it through the emergency we all face - when that self-confidence goes, and we're left  with the sobering reality of our own corruption and approaching end.

We know there's more.
Every time we look another person in the eye or ourselves in a mirror, we're confronted with an image that says "goodness, what are you?", but we suppress or re-direct such thoughts into zones which are manageable - not disquieting.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is unequivocal.
You and I were made by a God who loves us and this world.
You and I can be defined by that love by trusting in the love He has given to us and that world through His beloved Son, Jesus,
or we can perish without it - not by ceasing to be, but by spending eternity wrapped in the darkness of our own conceits, our own incarceration (See John's gospel chapter 3).

The truth stands before us, stark and unchanged.
The life and death of Jesus is history, not myth*

Are we going to be ready, in the light of such truth?

* Lee Strobel's recent film, The Case for Christ, looks at this in detail.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Down with discouragement!

"At present, so much of this seems hard, but it will yield a much richer fruit - righteousness,
so lift up those drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, so that full healing can be the way before you".
Hebrews 12: 11 & 12.

You know what it's like... You're working hard, and usually alone, to finish some really awkward job, and an 'expert' turns up and proceeds to tell you you're doing it all wrong, which is bad enough, but they then proceed to explain to you, at length, how they would do/ have done it.

Funny how those people always appear at that moment, and the 'help' they give usually isn't that helpful - Stevie Wonder's "He's Mr Know it All' often starts playing in my head about then.

Nehemiah had similar, but far bigger, troubles.

Jerusalem in his day was a rubbish tip - little more than piles of rubble and had been for a long time, but now, the exiles had come back, and they set about working hard to find stones so they could re-build the old walls and start the long process of renewing this city once more.

The problem was, the 'new' locals had plenty of advice, as they wanted things to stay just as they were. They were organizing to teach these unwanted meddlers a lesson.

The burdens - foreign and domestic - were just too great.
We can look at our present circumstances in exactly the same way, and often that's a fair assessment -
We sigh, we groan, and we feel that there has to be a way our of here.

Nehemiah, however, was able to press on, and encourage his fellow company to do likewise - because he had a far bigger picture than the rubbish heaps or the folly of his enemies.
He knew Jerusalem had once been the jewel of the world, and that in spite of present troubles, its greatest 'day' was still ahead, for behind the idea of this place was an even bigger reality, and that was going to bring a moment the world would never forget.

The only way forward was to actually get the job done, so these folks re-doubled their efforts, focused on the task whilst keeping a watchful eye for intruders.

Slowly but surely, in spite of all the meddling by others, the walls rose, the temple was restored, and the people turned afresh to God. The preparations, as it were, for something much better were back in place.

We can often be in exactly the same place as those unwanted exiles.
We look at the day to day of living out our faith, and it seems that all we're doing is bending and scraping to place a few old burnt stones in a pile, but occasionally, God allows us to look around and see how that connects to what else is going on around us, and then, perhaps, like Nehemiah, we catch a glimpse of the far bigger picture - that all of this is to make ready for the great day that's fast approaching.

Discouragement can be so destructive, so next time things are hard, don't listen to those who are telling you how bad you're doing - the walls are rising, and the new city is on the way, so just keep pressing on, running the race... Because of what happened outside a city wall on a cross, a new world is going to replace the old, whatever the critics say.